Oct. 23, 2002
CHICAGO, Ill. - With less than a month before the U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team attempts to qualify for their fourth consecutive World Youth Championship, U.S. head coach Thomas Rongen has selected a squad of 18 players to represent the U.S. at the CONCACAF Group B qualifying tournament in Charleston, S.C.
The tournament, which marks the first time U.S. Soccer has hosted an Under-20 qualifying tournament since 1980, will take place at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C., with doubleheaders on Nov. 13, 15 and 17. The U.S. will be joined by Haiti, El Salvador and Canada in Group B, with the top two teams advancing to the FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates from March 25 - April 16, 2003.
Eleven members of Rongen's qualifying team came through U.S. Soccer's full-time residency program, including goalkeeper Steve Cronin and Bobby Convey, who were both members of the U.S. squad that placed fourth at the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship.
The U.S. Under-20s have posted a 14-7-9 record in 2002, scoring more than twice as many goals as their opposition (55 to 27). At the C.O.T.I.F. XIX Torneig Internactional Tournament last month in Spain, the U.S. surprised many by topping Italy, Ukraine and Uruguay to advance to the final, where they fell 1-0 to an older Brazil team.
"This team has put in a lot of hard work over the last 10 months, and they are ready to step out onto the field and fight for a spot in the world championship," said Rongen. "This group is a very challenging one that will give us three quality matches against three very different opponents, but we are excited and looking forward to meeting these challenges and growing as a team."
Rongen will have more professional players - eight - on his qualifying roster than any previous U.S. Under-20 MNT. Six of those players compete in Major League Soccer - Devin Barclay (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Convey (D.C. United), Ed Johnson (Dallas Burn), Justin Mapp (D.C. United), Santino Quaranta (D.C. United) and Jordan Stone (Dallas Burn) - while Frank Simek (Arsenal - England) and David Johnson (Willem II - Holland) represent the USA's young yanks abroad.
The majority of the offense will likely come from the MLS contingent, with Ed Johnson and Quaranta expected to reunite the strike partnership that saw them combine for 98 goals at the Under-17 level. Due to injuries and club commitments Quaranta has yet to play an Under-20 match, while Johnson's play with the Under-20s has been limited to 13 matches and four goals. Joining the duo up top will be Devin Barclay and Knox Cameron, both of whom saw extensive time with the U.S. Under-18s in recent years.
Bobby Convey, who was a mainstay with the Under-20 team in 2000 and 2001, has only played two games with the Under-20s in 2002. In qualifying for the 2001 World Youth Championship, Convey scored three goals in the USA's first two games to secure a spot for the American side in Argentina '01. The youngest player on a U.S. Under-20 team that included Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley last year, Convey was one of the team's most consistent performers and started all four matches at the World Youth Championship in Argentina and led the U.S. with two assists in that tournament.
The midfield will be led by the experienced Convey and the gritty play of defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark. Clark, who has added three goals this year from his holding midfield spot, is a ball-winner in the middle of the field and serves as the link between the defense and the attack. Jordan Stone and Ned Grabavoy give Rongen flexibility in the middle, and Mapp will provide width to the attack from his left midfield spot. David Johnson and Devin Barclay will battle for duties on the right side.
The defense is expected to be led by the center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Ryan Cochrane, and the consistent play of right back C.J. Klaas. Chris Lancos and Frank Simek provide depth in the defense, and Jordan Harvey is expected to move into the starting lineup as a left back. The goalkeeping duties will be handled by Ford Williams and Steve Cronin, who both have posted goals against averages under 1.00 this year. Cronin, who began with the U.S. Under-17s in 1998, has posted a GAA of less than 1.00 for five straight years (1998-2002).
Just two weeks ago the U.S. team was dealt a tragic blow when defender Chefik Simo, a likely starter for the U.S. who has appeared in 15 matches this year, was injured in an auto accident that killed former U.S. Under-17 MNT captain Gray Griffin. The U.S. team will wear commemorative patches on their jerseys in honor of Griffin at the qualifying tournament.
Nine of the U.S. players - in addition to Simo and Griffin - were part of the U.S. team that advanced to the 2001 FIFA Under-17 World Championship in Trinidad & Tobago. That U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team qualified for the world championship by placing first at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament that U.S. Soccer hosted in St. Louis in April, 2001.
The four-team qualifying group in Charleston greatly resembles the group that participated at that Under-17 qualifying tournament in St. Louis. There, the U.S. topped Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada to advance to the 2001 FIFA Under-17 World Championship. Ed Johnson led the way for the U.S., scoring five goals in the final two games to secure the USA's spot in the world championship.
In Charleston, the U.S. will open against an impressive Haiti team that topped Jamaica earlier this year. Haiti took the longest road to Charleston, beginning in June with a 3-2 aggregate win against the Dominican Republic to qualify for the Caribbean Group B tournament. In Caribbean group play, Haiti topped the Bahamas and St. Kitts & Nevis by a combined 13-1 to advance to the two-legged playoff with the Group C champion, favored Jamaica. Haiti qualified for Charleston after fighting to a scoreless draw against Jamaica on Sept. 29 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, just two weeks after shocking Jamaica 2-1 in Kingston, Jamaica.
El Salvador finished second in the Under-20 Central American qualifying tournament in Guatemala with just one loss in four games and finished ahead of traditional Central American powers Costa Rica and Honduras.
Canada and the United States automatically qualified for the final round of qualifying as members of CONCACAF's North Zone. Canada and the U.S. have met twice in 2002, splitting a pair of one-goal wins. The U.S. topped Canada 1-0 on January 9 in their first international under Rongen. Canada got revenge on their southern neighbor with a 2-1 win at the U.S. Soccer Festival in Houston, Texas, on August 2.
Rongen selected Clint Baumstark, and the Chicago Fire pairing of Miguel Saavedra and Craig Capano as alternates. Capano and Saavedra will train with the U.S. prior to the tournament, while Baumstark will remain on call as he continues to play with the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
This past weekend Panama and Mexico qualified for the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship by finishing at the top of the CONCACAF Group A Qualifying Tournament in Panama. Panama shocked Mexico 2-1 to win the group and advance to a World Championship for the country's first time. Cuba topped Guatemala to finish in third-place in the group.